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The two of them got right up in it, baring fangs even though they could be seen, grabbing at the front of each other’s jackets.

Craeg was next out of the club, and Paradise was right with him.

“She’s a female of worth!” Peyton started to wind up for another strike. “She’s not like the trash you fuck—”

Axe caught the male’s forearm and bent it out of the way. “Oh, and that human slut on your lap in there was some kind of saint—”

“Her cousin is dead, okay! Allishon was the one Anslam murdered last month—I had to go to Elise’s household and tell them what happened! So no, you can’t fuck her and leave her ruined, which is what you’re going to do. There’s enough pain under that roof already and she deserves better than that! Better than you!”

Craeg jogged across the street and wasted no time in hooking a hold onto Peyton’s shoulders and dragging the guy back.

“Not here,” Craeg gritted. “You two assholes are making a scene.”

Axe cursed and walked off a little, pacing in the falling snow, his boots making tracks that quickly got him down to concrete. He spit out another mouthful of blood and tried to ignore how badly his knuckles were itching for payback.

But damn, they’d all heard about the killing. Anslam, the murderer, had been one of the trainees, one of the few to survive the induction night and get accepted into the Brotherhood’s program.

No one knew, or could have guessed, that the aristocratic bastard had been brutalizing females and taking pictures of his handiwork on the side.

Peyton had gone looking for his female cousin after he’d tried to get ahold of her—and from what Axe had been told, the guy had walked in on a bloodbath. No body, though. Turned out she had died at Havers’s clinic, but without identification.

Paradise had been the one to put it all together, and Anslam had nearly killed her when she’d figured it all out.

The sadistic bastard had ended up dead in her front foyer.

What a fucking mess.

“Not Elise,” Peyton said roughly. “I’m not going to let you ruin her. And don’t pretend that’s not what will happen. Unless you want to ask her father for permission to mate her properly, stay the fuck away from her.”

Yeah, like that was ever going to go down. One, because Axe would never ask any sire for that shit. And two, as if a high-bred father like the one she had would let a scrub like him even walk through the front door, much less entertain a mating proposal.

Hell, Axe wasn’t good enough to vacuum the floor rugs on the guy’s Rolls-Royce.

But what did it matter, Axe thought as he looked away again. It wasn’t like he was ever going to see her again.

What was the saying? Ships in the night.

They were two ships in the night, passing each other, never the twain shall meet again.

“Fine,” he muttered. “I’ll leave her alone.”

SIX

The following nightfall, Mary watched from the end of Bitty’s bed as the girl mulled over which coat to wear out. One was a puffy parka that was red and black, a gift from the King that was, as far as Mary could tell, like bubble-wrapping the kid—Rhage had even joked that it was the Gore-Tex equivalent of one of those human hamster balls that people got into and bounced down hills. The other choice was a sedate, navy blue peacoat, the old-fashioned kind with the sailor buttons and the collar you could stand up like Dracula’s.

A part of Mary’s heart ached that this was the first time in Bitty’s life that she’d had any kind of decision to make. Before, coming out of poverty, she had been lucky to have anything at all—and the idea the girl had spent so many winters cold was enough to make Mary nauseous.

“I don’t see why I have to go to the clinic,” the girl said as she put the parka back in her closet.

Mary had known all along that the wool coat was going to be the choice. Rhage had given the thing to the girl—and Wrath, son of Wrath, sire of Wrath, might have been the King of the entire race, but no one held a candle to Bitty’s father.

And tonight was going to be scary.

“Do you think there’s something wrong?” Bitty said as she came back from the closet.

“No,” Mary said. “I don’t. But it’s better to know that for sure rather than simply hope that’s the truth.”

“I’m not sore, though.” Bitty walked over to the dressing table and sat down in front of the three-part mirror. “And all pretrans are small.”

“I agree.” Boy, Mary hated to bring up the abuse. “The reality is, though, that your body has been through a lot. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get through your transition and be tall and strong. But what if there’s something we can do now to make sure that happens?”

“Is it because of the broken bones?”

“Yes.”

Bitty fell silent, picking up the hairbrush and running it through the long brown waves that fell past her shoulders—even though she’d already brushed them. And Mary gave the kid space, passing the time looking around the room … and wondering what else they could do to make the otherwise formal surroundings more what a thirteen-year-old girl would be into. Bitty didn’t demand anything, though, and she seemed content.

There also had been a lot of new purchases lately—and it was hard not to give the little girl the world.

Hard, too, to stop the frickin’ Brothers from spoiling her rotten. Bitty had arrived at the Brotherhood mansion with two battered suitcases, a doll head, and her old tiger, Mastimon—and within a night or two, her football team’s worth of overprotective pains in the asses, better known as the BABUs (Bad-Ass Big Uncles), had been laying things at her doorway like offerings to an altar.

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